The Bang Bang Club (2010)
Director: Steven Silver.
Starring: Ryan Phillippe (Greg Marinovich), Malin Akerman (Robin Comley), Taylor Kitsch (Kevin Carter), Neels Van Jaarsveld (Joćo Silva), Frank Rautenbach (Ken Oosterbroek), Nina Milner (Samantha), Jessica Haines (Allie), Russel Savadier (Ronald Graham), Lika Berning (Vivian), Kgosi Mongake (Patrick), Patrick Shai (Pegleg), Alfred Kumalo (Alf Khumalo), Craig Palm (Amir), Nick Boraine (Colin), Patrick Lyster (Jim).
four young photographers risk their lives to capture the bloody struggle against apartheid
"Between 1990 and 1994, the ruling apartheid government waged a secret war against Nelson Mandela's ANC party and its supporters. In this covert war, the government found a powerful ally -- the Inkatha movement and its thousands of Zulu warriors. "
April 18th, 1994. Kevin Carter of the Bangbang club is being interviewed on the radio. The club is a group of photographers that often have the same assignment and they came to know each other very well.
Based on a true story.
Flashback. Four years earlier. A sign on the highway says it's a right turn for Soweto [an urban area of the city of Johannesburg in Gauteng, South Africa] and a left turn for Southgate. Photographer Greg Marinovich is driving his car. On the radio the news is: "Soweto residents say that in the early hours of this morning, members of the Inkatha Freedom Party attacked sections of Soweto, know to be sympathetic to the ANC." Greg stops his car to start taking photographs of what's going on.
Another photographer arrives on his motorcycle. Then two other photographers arrive by a van. One group of Africans are throwing things at another groups of Africans that are armed with machetes. Three of the photographers are taking photos of an African recently killed by the armed group. Kevin Carter asks the new guy, Greg, what's his name. Greg gives his name and Kevin gives his. The third photographer, Ken, knows that Greg's a free-lance photographer. He's seems to be in a bad mood. Kevin tells Greg not to mind the other photographer because he's the chief photographer at the Star.
Greg decides to follow the Zulus. A boy advises Greg not to do it because it's a short-cut to heaven. Greg goes anyway. He goes into their housing area. Soon enough the men start following Greg, who starts running for his life. He runs into a tavern and starts talking to the men there. Then the horde of Zulus descends on the place. An older man asks what does the white fellow want and he says he wants to take photographs. The man tells Greg to sit down. Greg says he wants to tell the Inkatha side of the story. He then asks the older man to tell him what happened here today? The man says that they come here for only one reason -- to work. The Mandela boys, however, are telling them not to go to work. Now if they lose their jobs, will the Mandela boys give them money to feed their families? No, they won't.
Another man at the table says his brother had just come out from a store with lots of groceries and was stopped by a Mandela man. They told his brother that there was a boycott on, and he should not buy any food. They then made him drink cooking oil and paraffin and pushed washing powder into his mouth. So the Zulus taught the others a very good lesson today. Greg starts snapping pictures of the angry Zulus.
The Zulus corner a man who they says is an enemy who has been shooting at everybody. They destroy the door on the man's place and he comes out running for his life. The Zulus chase him and catch him and start beating him, hacking at him with machetes and stabbing him with a knife. Greg gets photos of the assassination. The older man tells Greg that the dead man is not Zulu, but a Xhosa like Mandela. "He deserves to die."
Greg goes into the offices of the Star. He asks to see the picture editor, who turns out to be a young woman, Robin Comley. The other photographers can't believe that Greg went inside the hostel to get photos. The photos are developed and examined. They can't use the photo of the murdered man, but they can use some of the other photos. Later the photographers and Robin go to a bar. Photographer Joao Silva introduces himself to Greg.
Alone with Greg, Robin asks him why did he go inside the hostel? Greg says because it scared him. She is a bit amused by that answer. Now Greg invites her out for dinner. She says this time she will take him for dinner, so he can save his money and buy a better camera.
The next morning Greg goes with the other photographers. There are about 2,000 Inkatha warriors heavily armed and on their way to the Mandela boys.
The camera men park and see the two sides formed about about a block away from each other. They insult each other through their words and their rude body movements. Someone from the Inkatha side with an Army rifle comes up to the front and starts shooting the "comrades". Someone with a pistol from the comrades' side starts shooting Inkatha men down. Three armored personnel carriers come between the two groups and they start firing at the Mandela boys. Now the Inkatha men charge their enemy. Those enemy they catch, they kill. Greg finds himself scared once again.
At night the four photographers go to a night club. The women there know the photographers. While the other photographers dance with the women, Greg takes off. He goes back to the Star offices to see Robin again. She is preparing an article and will be using three of Greg's photos. She tells Greg that she doesn't date photographers. They start kissing each other. They have sex.
The next day the photographers are already asking Greg about his having sex with Robin.
Inhlazane Station, Soweto Township. It looks like a massacre occurred here last night. Some fellows catch a Zulu. They beat and kick him, then they stab him and, finally, they set him on fire. Greg gets close up of the action, but afterwards he starts shaking thinking about what he saw.
The other photographers say they sent Greg's photos to London and they are going to use everyone of his shots. The guys go out to the club to celebrate the occasion.
The next day the police come to get Greg's photos because a murder took place. Robin covers for him, but the police tell her that either Greg gives them the photos, or he will be arrested. Later, Robin tells Greg that he should make himself scarce for awhile. So Greg goes on a photography trip, taking photos of the native women and the villages.
Greg's photo of the burning man being hit by a panga (machete-like) gets a Pulitzer Prize. The other photographers tells Robin that now the police have to leave him alone. Robin gives a call over to Greg and at night they go out to the club to celebrate the Pulitzer. One of the Africans at the club tells Greg that the Pulitzer-winning photo is being used as propaganda by the white people to show how animal-like the Africans truly are. This upsets Greg. He walks into the restroom.
Greg comes back to the table and gets Robin. He takes her home and wants to ravish her. She has to yell at him to stop it! He says he's so mad because the ANC publicly accuses him of being a state spy. He says he hates them all: the Inkatha, the comrades, this whole place.
Kevin meets a pretty, young school teacher and he invites her and her friends over to his house with his friends for a "braai" on Sunday. She says she would love that.
A fellow journalist wants to do a story on the Bang Bang Paparazzi. He shows them the layout for the article, but Joao says no way because they are not paparazzi. The journalist says what about the title of Bang Bang Club? Ken says that "club" is fine. Greg and Robin are about to leave when another photographer, named Abdul Shareef, comes over and says he wants to join the Bang Bang Club. Greg tells the fellow to show up one morning at the Macho Chicken off Old Potch Road.
Abdul shows up, but there are lots of other journalists that are there too and they want to follow the guys of the Bang Bang Club in their cars. Joao tells the others to go form their own club, instead of tailing after them.
Nancefield, Soweto Township. The guys see people running for their lives, so they go right to the scene of the trouble. They park in a cemetery where people are hiding behind large headstones on the graves. They get out of their car, and one of the comrades tells them to get down because the Zulus have a sniper with a silencer on. The cameramen, except for Abdul, kneel down. A bullet hits Abdul in the chest and he goes down. The others see that Abdul is still breathing, so they throw him into the back seat of the car and head for a hospital. Abdul dies on the way to the hospital.
Greg feels very bad because he told Abdul he could come along with them. And now he has to wash the blood out of his back seat. Robin tries to console him. In his home, Ken takes photos of his naked girlfriend on his bed. (brief nudity) Then he takes a selfie of himself and his girlfriend. Kevin takes drugs and crashes his car into a tree. He gets arrested. Greg and Ken bail him out of jail, but he gets fired from the newspaper. Kevin decides to go with Joao to Sudan.
At home Greg gets a phone call about an Inkatha attack in Boipatong. Robin tells him that no one goes into Boipaatong at night. Since she can't stop Greg, she demands to go with him.
Tugela Street, Boipatong Township. It looks like there's been another massacre of people. A man motions Greg to a parking area. Greg and Robin go in to listen to a man's story. The fellow says that the attackers came in buses driven by white men. The white men gave them orders: "Don't talk! Just shoot! " They chased the fellow. He ran faster and hid behind some bushes. All around him he heard them killing people. When they left, he went home and found his wife lying out there in the dirt with her intestines hanging out. She was still alive and she asked to see her son. He went to get his son, but he was already dead. "They had no mercy."
Greg goes into the bedroom to take a photo of the dead son. It's too dark in there so he asks Robin to hold the light closer. Poor Robin starts to cry, while Greg takes the photos. He keeps telling her to bring the light closer to the body. Eventually, she just says that she can't to it anymore and runs out of the room. Upon coming back home, Robin says that maybe to be a photographer, one has to think that the people are not actually real people. Greg gets mad and tells her to then just leave him alone.
UN Feeding Station, Ayod Hamlet, Sudan. Kevin takes a photo of a native girl kneeling over while a buzzard comes closer and closer to her.
When Joao gets back from Sudan, Greg asks him how was it? He says they never go near the rebels. All they saw was flies and skinny people. Joao then checks Kevin's photos. He finds the one with the dying girl and the buzzard. That photo is seen around the world then it was published on the front page of the New York Times. Kevin gets a call from Nancy Buirski from the New York Times. Kevin gets on the phone and says he needs an assignment and he needs some money. Nancy tells him that he has won a Pulitzer Prize for his photo. Kevin is stunned.
Kevin gets in some trouble when he admits that he didn't help the little girl. Why didn't he make sure the girl was safe? Why did he just leave her in the desert to die? Ken has to go up and rescue Kevin from the grilling he has been given.
News report: "The South African government and the African National Congress have agreed to set a date for South Africa's first non-racial election. Today's announcement did little, however, to stop the violence which continues to threaten South Africa's townships. In an attempt to control the violence, the two parties also unveiled a new peacekeeping force." "The newly formed National Peacekeeping Force, deployed for the first time in the townships, clearly unable to cope with the high level of violence."
Back to the present. April 18, 1994. One week before election day. Kevin on the radio is asked what does he think makes a great photograph? He answers: "I don't know, really. You take the picture and you see what you have later." He adds: "You go out and you see bad things, evil things, and you want to do something about it, so what you do is you take the picture that shows it. But not everybody is gonna like what they see." Then the radio announcer asks if Kevin knows what happened to that little girl in his picture? No.
Thokoza. The Bang Bang Club gets fired upon in their van. Ken calls into Robin to tell them where they are and that they have come under fire. They have a visiting journalist with them. He asks what's going on? Greg says: "Who cares, it's bang bang."
Khumalo Street, Thokoza Township. Mshaya'zafe Workers Hostel. The photographers are in the thick of a fire fight. The peacekeeping force is there. The white officer wants the blacks to attack the hostel, but he can't get the men to move, even after he kicks one of the men. In the confusion, Greg and Ken get shot. Ken is dead, while Greg will survive. Robin comes to the hospital. She sees that Ken is dead. Then she goes to see Greg. They say hello to each other as the doctors work on Greg. Robin tells Greg that Ken is dead.
Later at a get together to honor Ken, Robin tries to console Ken's girlfriend.
On television, Mandela says: "I would like to express my deepest sympathy to the family of Ken Oosterbroek."
Hot headed Joao gets into a fight at the bar and gets hurt. His girlfriend helps patch him up. And now he's headed to Afghanistan. He says: "It's what I've always wanted." He asks Viv if she will marry him and she says yup.
Robin visits Greg in the hospital. He apologizes to Robin for his behavior. Robin says she thinks it's an occupational hazard.
April 27, 1994. The flag of freedom and equality for all races now flies over South Africa. The people of South Africa vote. It's a massive turnout.
Kevin Carter kills himself with carbon monoxide in his car.
In 2000, Joao Silva was made a contract photographer for the New York Times. He has worked in Rwanda, Croatia, Israel, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan. Between assignments, he lives in Johannesburg with his wife Vivian and their two children.
Greg Marinovich went on to assignments in Serbia, Israel, West Africa, Sudan and Angola. He was shot three more times. He now lives in Johannesburg with his wife Leonie and their two children. He no longer takes combat photographs.
Wow! It's not easy being a combat photographer. Quite a few of them get wounded or killed. This is a film about a group of four photographers working amidst the fighting in South Africa. The group takes casualties, so you know it's tough. Two of the photographers win Pulitzer Prizes for their photographs. The men are deeply affected by what they have to see. One fellow probably develops post traumatic stress disorder. The fighting involves the Zulus against the Mandela boys and men, which for me was a new aspect of the struggle in South Africa not shown in other films on that country. The acting was good all around.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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